Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Funniest Movie Of The Summer Might Be The Other Guys. . . But It's Been An Unfunny Summer!

The Good: Moments of humor, Interesting concept, Likable characters, Generally decent acting.
The Bad: Predictable in points, Humor has moments of familiarity and doesn't always land
The Basics: Generally funny with a good mix of ridiculous humor and action moments, The Other Guys is a sure-hit from Adam McCay and Will Ferrell.

Summer comedies generally fare poorly for me. I'm not the world's biggest fan of comedy to begin with and summer comedies often seem to involve turning the brain off and going for the cheapest possible laugh. In fact, the only summer comedy in recent memory I truly recall loving was last year's ode to manhood The Hangover. With The Other Guys, I find myself arguing that sometimes we have to take the best we can get and The Other Guys is pretty much it for the summer. While I cannot honestly recall a cop parody I love – I recall thinking the style of humor in The Job is pretty much what killed the series – I suspect that many of the professional reviewers will be calling The Other Guys the best cop comedy since Beverly Hills Cop. They may be right when they use that blurb. Until then, I'll say that Will Ferrell's Gamble and Mark Wahlberg's Hoitz make for the best cop comedy duo since Alex Foley and . . . whatever Judge Reinhold's character's name was.

The Other Guys once again pairs actor Will Ferrell with writer-director Adam McKay, a man who seems ideal for getting the best out of Ferrell. McKay writes lines for Ferrell knowing just the style of delivery and paired with Chris Henchy, the film pops with a sense of humor that gets great laughs from characters outside the two lead stars. McKay is known for having great one-liners (“Milk was a bad choice” from Anchorman is one that is oft-quoted around my house) and in that regard, The Other Guys has several with them. Indeed, even those who have only seen the trailer to The Other Guys are likely to be using “I chalk that up to bad life choices” already. The Good Guys is fun and funny, but it is slow enough in parts to rob it of a particularly high rating and many of the jokes are surprisingly witty for McKay, not the type that goes for the outright guffaw.

Not at all the heroes of New York City, Detectives Hoitz and Gamble work in the shadow of the archetypal action-hero cops, Highsmith and Danson. Gamble is a police detective whose work is limited pretty much to accounting and Hoitz has been partnered with him as punishment for accidentally shooting Derek Jeter. After a botched attempt to imitate Highsmith and Danson, the other cops are put in their place, though Hoitz is still restless. Gamble, as it turns out, uses his accounting knowledge to stack up a multi-billion dollar charge against one of the most prominent developers in the business community in New York, based on his failure to file for any scaffolding permits.

When Highsmith and Danson meet an untimely end and with Hoitz's egging him on, Gamble and Hoitz move to take David Ershon into custody. But getting to him, holding onto him and getting a confession out of him all take dangerous and often funny turns that make it unlikely Hoitz will get the recognition he so desires, much less survive terribly long!

The Other Guys is funny and it doesn't try to be much more than that, though it does go for the action-adventure thrill at points. The most fun aspects of the action-adventure bits is that whenever they involve Gamble and Hoitz, the duo often reflect on the reality of their situations. Gamble, especially, is not street trained and his lack of real-world training has real consequences. He gets bruises, he doesn't back Hoitz up well and he is lost when it comes to dealing with some people. Moreover, the flashbacks to his past as an unwitting pimp are cute and add a layer to the movie that was not there in the concept, much like the squad's captain unwittingly quoting TLC lyrics.

As one might expect of a film from Adam McKay, who co-wrote and directed the movie, The Other Guys features quite a bit of generic humor that will likely appeal to guys more than the sensibilities of women. This is not to say the film is sexist, though when it is it seems to be calling out the masculine ideal by mocking what is expected of successful men more than actually demeaning women, but jokes involving the simple non-sequitor of Will Ferrell and Eva Mendez playing a married couple are broken up with enough body-part references to make those with a thin skin uncomfortable.

Even so, The Other Guys is likely to play very well with adults, not just because it makes references to cop shows and movies, but because the cast – outside of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson – seems to be made up of generally more serious, adult actors like Michael Keaton (who plays the Captain of the squad), Samuel L. Jackson and Anne Heche. The level of talent is actually disproportionately high for what one might expect from an Adam McCay film, but they seem to adapt to all of the humor, which is not entirely lowbrow. This, of course, justifies people like Mark Wahlberg appearing in a role which is basically a parody of his other, serious, cop roles.

While the plot might be predictable (there is a formulaic quality to the plot points, especially in the conflicts between Hoitz and Gamble where they learn a very important lesson in partnership), the movie is still rather enjoyable. The characters are far more well-defined than one might expect from a comedy and Gamble's lack of ambition to be an action-style cop actually makes for an interesting character quirk and plot point.

As for the acting, it is surprisingly good. Michael Keaton makes good use of his few scenes, though his deliveries instantly remind one of his Bruce Wayne. Similarly, Samuel L. Jackson plays a character we feel like we have seen before, even though he is funny and credible as Highsmith and his tenure on screen is brief. Ferrell is good and I want to call his performance wonderful more because I cannot recall seeing him play a character who was goofy but so smart before. Gamble is fun to watch and more likable than Ron Burgandy (for example) and he has a real intelligence to him. Wisely, McCay establishes the smart in Gamble before the goofy.

The real star is Mark Wahlberg, though. In The Other Guys, Wahlberg is a great straightman to the verbally and physically ridiculous antics of Ferrell. Beyond just playing off Ferrell's jokes, Wahlberg has some of the greatest straightman deliveries and the physical comedy he does when playing off Steve Coogan's Ershon is funny as well.

Ultimately, The Other Guys will not win any awards (except maybe a Golden Globe nomination for comedy film, which it won't win – sorry guys!), but it is solidly entertaining, fun and seems funny enough that it might have the box office endurance of The Hangover. It's certainly the first McCay comedy I am actually eager to see again.

For other films featuring Mark Wahlberg, please check out my reviews of:
Date Night
The Departed
Three Kings


For more movie reviews, please check out my index page!

© 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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